Memphis: Elvis, the Blues and BBQ

As I sit here this morning in a hotel suite in Memphis, I can hear my friend Sam showering in a bathroom down the hall.  Our accommodations are very comfortable with two bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, living room, full kitchen, three TV’s contained in about 900 square feet.  My first reaction to the self quandary this morning of “what am I am thankful for today” is my gratefulness for the resources to be able to travel and do so comfortably.  My life is rich with advantages and blessings, so much so it is impossible to be grateful for everything all at once because there is so much.     

Soon I need to go take a shower so we can get out of the hotel and go make photographs which is our main objective for today. Memphis is abundant with subject matter to capture an image of.  I look forward to being out today in spite of the sweaty mess I know I will become in the heat and humidity.  Interesting how discomforts don’t bother one much while having a good time.  

Yesterday Sam arranged for us to have a private guided tour of Graceland which I enjoyed far beyond what I could have anticipated.  What a great experience it was to have Alicia from the Public Relations office take two hours to show us around.  Thanks Sam for your great connections!  Thanks Alicia for your warmth, kindness and knowledge. 

The home Elvis Presley lived in was certainly not inexpensive, but at the same time was not as showy and large as many might think.  I was able to get a much different sense of the man behind the legend which actually made Elvis more appealing to me.  He had eclectic taste and a unique sense of artfulness.  

What I remember most this morning about Elvis’s home:  the custom made 15 foot couch and 10 foot coffee table in the living room where he received and entertained people, the media/entertainment room whose 70’s décor looks interestingly contemporary in a retro sense and the kitchen which seemed to have an easily sensed positive vibe about it.  I came away with a tinge of sadness in knowing Elvis never really got to live his own life.  Instead he lived mostly the one his handlers and admirers created for him. Graceland was where he hid away from the prison of fame, a least a little bit.  I believe Elvis did most of his laughing at Graceland and the majority of his happiest moments were there.    

Yesterday morning before spending time at Graceland, Sam and I spent time at the Stax Experience which celebrates the 1960’s days of Stax Studios and artists like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Issac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Booker T. and the MG’s, Sam and Dave and many more.  Those artists were at their peak during my formative years and seeing all the memorabilia was indeed a journey down memory lane.  

In the afternoon we took in the Sun Studio tour.  What is amazing to me is the studio is still intact today pretty much as it was in the 1950’s when Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison recorded there.  I expected it to give me a sort of eerie feeling and instead got a very positive sense that a lot of fun had been had there by a lot of people.  Even today for $100 per hour with a two hour minimum anyone can hire Sun Studio and record in the same room so many greats played and sang in.  Makes me want to go home and practice!

Last night Sam and I took a journey to Beale Street which was “a trip” as we called wild and interesting times “in the day”.  Lots of police to keep everyone safe in an atmosphere you’d expect to find around Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  The main different being inMemphisthe music that wafts out the doors of the bars and into the streets is blues, not jazz.  Those visiting are from all over the world and I heard many different languages there on the avenue of neon signs called Beale Street.  Lots of fun, a great meal and some killer blues licks capped off a good day of wallowing in the heritage of music originating in this old, historical city. 

Memphis has its share of grime and grit.  There are lots of vacant store fronts and driving around it is obvious that some of the city is rundown and saw much better days in the past.  I sense a sort of sadness shaded contentment aboutMemphis.  Yet, there appears to be little bitterness about better economic times being behind the city.  Rather the poignant dash of bittersweet is what one would expect in a city that is the southern home of the blues.  Without a least a bit of despair, dejection and sadness there can be no blues. 

Memphis is a fascinating mix of the old and the new, smiling tourist faces and melancholy servers, modern architecture and near decrepit structures, and easily seen and apparent success and nearby states of varying destitution.  Without such points on the spectrum this big city could not produce its blues legacy.  

Today I am accurately aware of the sonorous blessing of being in Memphis this weekend.  To an even greater degree I am grateful to be sharing it with an old friend I have known for more than two decades.  It is hanging out with Sam that adds such broad strokes of color and remembrance to the experiences we are having. 

Whatever we have reverence for boldly tells of our truest nature.  Rick Yates

One thought on “Memphis: Elvis, the Blues and BBQ

  1. Have a terrific time in Memphis and thanks for sharing the visit with us… There is something to be said about the constant reminder that life has its bright and dark sides and that we often live parallel lives. 🙂

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